We investigated the mating system of shy albatrosses Thalassarche cauta by combining behavioural observations during the pre-laying period with genetic paternity analysis. Genetic data on the mating systems of several procellariiform seabirds have recently become available, but data on the reproductive behaviour of these species are rarely obtained. Our main aims were to describe the copulatory behaviour of this species and identify how males achieve within-pair and extra-pair paternity (EPP). Most copulations occurred on the nest, were unforced and were within-pair. Females controlled the success of copulations and were observed soliciting extra-pair matings. Within-pair and extra-pair copulations were behaviourally similar. A low frequency (7–10%, n=29 chicks) of EPP was detected despite male use of frequent copulation as a paternity guard. The pre-laying foraging exodus of female shy albatrosses differed from that in other albatrosses: it was relatively short in length, lasting c. 2 days, and within-pair copulations occurred after the female's return 2 days before laying. This may reflect the close proximity of feeding grounds to the breeding colony.